Watching MSNBC this morning, I note that as we enter Easter weekend, Terri Schiavo's dying is being called "an American Passion Play," and the suffering Pope John Paul II is described as an authentic mystic who carries on an intimate, murmuring dialogue with God and has been credited with miraculous healings. Jesus Christ is on the cover of NEWSWEEK.
Love it or hate it, religion is everywhere. It's the sea we Americans swim in. (I nearly lost a new blogfriend on the other side of the pond, Euan Semple of The Obvious?, when he bridled at my saying he "needed prayers" for his daughter, who'd been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. It made me realize how unthinkingly comfortable we Americans have become with such language, excepting only the most adamantly secular.) I imagine outright atheists, rationalists and skeptics must feel like they're drowning in totalitarian treacle. As befits my Ambiva-nature, I'm more in the bemused middle, frightened that we may be, not drifting, but being towed toward a conservative Christian theocracy, yet fearful also that those progressives who dismiss or disdain faith are pushing believers into the arms of extremists. The law of polarization is that the poles feed and strengthen each other. In that sense enemies are secret allies, pinning the rest of us in the crossfire of the war that is their raison d'être.
I agree with skeptics like Yeah, Whatever that "not knowing is superior to knowing if you want to increase your stock of knowledge" -- though I would include "not knowing" that God doesn't exist -- and I am all for a new and open, broad-horizoned and forward-looking worldview (my personal manifesto is here). Yet if it is purely rational and materialist, and doesn't enfold some elements of mystery and morality, it will be rejected by the human immune system, leaving no alternative but what Science & Politics calls "the Regressives."
UPDATE: Richard Cohen has a wise post on our uncertainty about God's existence:
It seems to me a form of grandiosity to claim to know whether God exists or not. The believer says, in essence, “I say that God exists, therefore he does.” The atheist says the same thing: “I say that God does not exist, therefore he does not.” Both are putting themselves in the place of God as determiners of God’s existence. “Let there be God, and there was God.” Or not.
Primitive peoples believed that whether they performed the rites correctly or not would affect the health of the gods. The belief that our belief or disbelief affects God is a form of idolatry.